More Than a 'Bag of Tricks:' Using Creative Methodologies in Environmental Adult and Community Education

Article excerpt

"That's only good for kids!"

"That was a lot of fun. When do we start studying?"

"The activity gives a warm and fuzzy feeling, but are they learning?"

The above comments are just a few examples of the reactions I have heard when I use creative and participatory activities in environmental workshops and training programs. Have you heard similar reactions when you conduct creative activities? Or do you yourself react this way when presented with creative activities?

Reactions, such as those mentioned above, were the motivation for wanting to explore with other environmental educators the tensions that often accompany the use of creative activities in environmental adult and community education programs. Together with Shirley Follen of the Learning for Environmental action Programme (LEAP), Canada and Meena Ragunathan of the Centre for Environment Education, Ahmedadbad, India, we conducted a workshop during the International Conference on Environmental Education of the Australian Association for Environmental Education (AAEE) held in Sydney, Australia in 1999.

We used a creative activity adapted from the 'Tree of My Life' (Guevara, 1995, p. 104) and the 'Tree of Expectations, Forest of What we Have Learned' (Clover, Follen, & Hall, 2000, p. 63) to facilitate introductions and initiate discussion. The participants were given paper cutouts. Four represented different parts of a tree namely, the roots, trunk, leaves, and flowers. The fifth cutout was in the shape of an axe. On each of the cutouts the participants were asked to write brief responses to the following questions:

Roots: What has influenced you most in teaching of environmental adult education?

Trunk: Write your nickname.

Leaves: Write the title or brief description of a favorite creative activity you have used.

Flowers: What are some of the outcomes of using creative learning activities?

Axe: What are some of the constraints of using creative learning activities?

After a few minutes we asked the participants to sit in a circle with a huge outline of a tree in the middle. We took turns sharing our responses and attaching the paper cutouts on to the tree. I have used these responses as my way of recollecting and reflecting on the discussion in preparing this article. I have used my experiences as a community educator with the Center for Environmental Concerns--Philippines to illustrate some of the ideas discussed. Through this article I therefore hope to begin to explore the contents of this "bag of tricks" and hopefully, lighten the load by identifying a pocketful of principles involved in the use of creative methodologies in environmental adult and community education.

Descriptions, Definitions, and Boundaries

First, it is important to make a distinction between methods and methodology as it will be referred to and further argued and developed in this article. Method specifically refers to how the learning will be facilitated, the particular technique or activity that will be conducted. On the other hand, methodology is a more encompassing term that refers to the educational rationale or philosophy that explains why these methods were selected or used.

For example, creative methods that were identified by the participants on the leaf cutouts included drawing or art, nature activities, adult games, energizers, and story telling. According to the participants, their rationale for using these creative methods, identified from the flower cutouts were to attract attention, encourage active participation, provide space for reflection, motivate greater cooperation, stimulate discussion and debate and, of course, to inspire.

Second, it is necessary to clarify that CEC's experience in environmental adult education was focused on community settings in the Philippines. The Center's mission, taken from their 1989-1997 Vision, Mission, and Goals statement, is to enhance "environmental consciousness and improve the socio-economic capabilities of the local communities through grassroots environmental education for people empowerment. …